A few weeks before bombs started falling on Baghdad, Shane Morris, a sophomore at Pleasant Hill's College Park High School, stood up during fourth-period biology at precisely 11:30 a.m. and headed for the door. He told his teacher, Ms. Osborn, he was leading a student walkout. "Whoever wants to support the troops," he announced to his classmates, "follow me."
On cue, one hundred or so of the school's two thousand students came trickling from various classrooms. Morris had handed out fliers the day before, calling on his cohorts to join him in "supporting the American way of life." The young man led the contingent through the open-air halls to its final destination: the flagpole. He carried a sign that showed a drawing of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's head caught in the crosshairs of a sniper's rifle. It read, "I have a dream, too," a twist on Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous words.
Outside, Morris thanked the gathered students for backing their president and the US military. Just a few days earlier, an antiwar walkout at the school had attracted about 350 students, and he was pleased the hawks, too, could muster a response, although even he admits most of them were just looking for a way out of class. "The troops will need our support," he said at the time. The kids milled about the school parking lot until after the lunch hour, then returned for fifth period. A few, like Morris, called it a day and earned an unexcused absence.
Since then, the gangly sixteen-year-old has become a celebrity of sorts around campus: that pro-war guy. But it's proven to be a lonely lot. In classroom debates, Morris says teachers often curtail his time on the floor in favor of students who speak for peace. His father, a "die-hard Democrat," as the son puts it, forbade him from attending a recent pro-war rally in San Francisco. Even his boss at the Cold Stone Creamery, the ice cream shop where Morris works, has had to step in and ask his employee to stop questioning customers about their views on the conflict while scooping out double orders of Cookies n' Cream.
"I know I'm not doing a popular thing around here," Morris says, marveling that outside the East Bay, polls show the war being supported by nearly three out of four Americans. "But when this war is over, all they're going to remember are the big peace rallies in San Francisco and all the police action that occurred. They're not going to remember the high school kid who ran a pro-war rally."
Shane Morris grew up in North Carolina and speaks with a slight Southern affectation, especially when he needs to. Already standing six-feet-plus, he's six inches taller than most of his classmates. He's clean-cut and politically astute, with the air of a young Bill Clinton, a president the teenager says he supported. "He made smart trade agreements," Morris says, "and he had the presence to enforce them diplomatically."
Morris gets his war views from relatives other than his father. His grandfather and uncle are World War II and Korean War veterans respectively, and both support the younger Morris' efforts. The teenager's room in Pleasant Hill is stocked with an impressive rack of history books, which allow him to "study the pattern of history," he says. He says he prefers the BBC to CNN because the British radio network "portrays us as the Buick jockeys that we truly are. On our television sets, we're the good guys all the time."
In Morris' view, the goals of this war are economic. And while most Bush supporters wave off the war-for-oil mantra of the peace marchers as hogwash, Morris agrees with them. It is a war for oil, he says. The American economy is tied to oil prices, and the United States needs to ensure it remains accessible and affordable. "Nobody likes a loss of life," he says, "and I don't like it either. But I think that most times, during a recession, it's more important that you pull the economy out.
"In the long run, this war will improve the economy," he continues. "Not even in the next five or ten years, but maybe in fifteen years. You'll see a lot of good things coming from this war; we'll have better oil agreements with OPEC and all these guys. I think, by then, they'll see us as a good power. I don't want to sound brutal, but sometimes, to have the way of life in America, you have to give up a few things."
All this was sounding like the bravado of a kid not yet old enough to put his own life on the line. Sensing as much, Morris owned up to it before the question could be asked: "If I was eighteen, I would be the first person to grab a gun and go over there. I'd enlist like that!" he says, snapping his fingers. "You live in America to have a certain way of life, and to let someone who lives thousands of miles away control that? That's a problem."
As Morris spoke, students and teachers walked past the campus bench where he was sitting. Some stopped long enough to listen in, and then deliver a look that said, "There goes Shane -- again." But none of the eavesdroppers would join the conversation about his views or his recent activities. Even his spiky-haired buddy sitting beside him on the bench, who had helped Morris make posters the night before the big rally, said he didn't want his name mentioned, and wouldn't offer a reason.
One student, whom Morris described as a "peace guy," called out, "If you want to go on killing people under the false guise of God, that's up to you!" Morris just laughed.
Then the student's English teacher passed by and Morris goaded him for declining to be interviewed. "What, Mr. Johnson?" Morris yelled. "All teachers have neutral views, right?" The teacher raised the back of his hand as he rushed past and yelled over his shoulder, "Yeah, something like that." From the principal to the attendant in the registrar's office, no one at College Park seemed willing to say a word about Shane Morris and his student activism.
Even his father blew off repeated interview requests, despite Shane's prodding. "I don't think he wants to go on record opposing his son," the teenager says.
So much reluctance to speak out is uncharacteristic. Usually school administrators and teachers enjoy talking about politically active students, the ones who actually take an interest in the world beyond video games and sports. Behind every student who starts up a canned-food drive for a worthy cause, there's a teacher ready to lavish praise.
Yet it was clear that Morris' pro-war beliefs had stretched beyond the comfort zone for the adults on campus. What to do with a kid who doesn't think like the others, who openly advocates war to help keep oil prices stable?
Off campus, though, Morris' rally earned him some love from at least one like-minded group. The president of the Diablo Valley Community College Republicans called on him to help plan another pro-war rally, this time on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco. Morris arranged for a day off from the ice cream parlor, and drew up some new fliers. The night before, he was preparing to meet the Republicans at the Walnut Creek BART station the following morning when his father intervened, reminding him he was still a juvenile. Morris was disappointed, but obedient. "He said I couldn't go because I was too young, and it was too far," he says. "It's his right as a parent to make that decision."
What wasn't fair in Morris' eyes was that the unexcused absence issued by the school's front office grew into a detention notice citing him for "disturbing school activities." He ignored the referral, he says, arguing the antiwar kids didn't get the same notices. The school, he notes, hasn't pursued the issue and his record remains clean. School administrators wouldn't discuss this matter either.
In the meantime, as Iraqi resistance crumbles, Morris continues to pick up debate where he can, even on the walk to work. College Park teachers, he complains, still cut him off when he gets on a roll; he's now considering off-campus independent study next year, and hopes to graduate a year early. "The classroom environment," the teenager says, "just isn't the best way for me to work."
But Morris promises he'll likely be organizing another pro-war gathering in the days to come: "When they declare Saddam is dead," he says, "then I'll throw a victory party."
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